NO MAN’S SKY: LOOKING DEEPER AT ONE OF E3’S BIGGEST HITS

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Ambition is a word I feel has been lacking at times in the discussion of video games these days. Some games may have an ambitious idea, but as a whole, rest gently in genre comforts or traditional elements, with bold new ideas sprinkled in to breathe life into it. This isn’t a bad approach by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not very often we see a game that is built entirely around pushing boundaries. Games where when they’re explained to you, you go “there is no way you could possibly live up to that”, but when it’s shown to you, you start to wonder if maybe we’re finally there.

At this point in time, No Man’s Sky is that kind of ambitious. A project that promises you not just worlds to explore, but entire galaxies. Universes of possibility. Where the sky isn’t the limit – It’s just the starting point. 

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No Man’s Sky was a game that was introduced to the public a handful of months ago, with it’s first big moment in the spotlight coming on Spike TV’s VGX awards. I was instantly taken by the design concepts being introduced by the developers, and began hyping the game as one that was in need of attention. It was a game I knew was going to get a lot of people excited, and one that, if it could live up to it’s promises, would show just what it means to push a game to the next level.

The impressive part of it is the size of the studio making it. This is not a massive company with hundreds of employees, each dedicated to rendering their own tree. This is a four-man studio, with a few programmers brought in. And that’s it. Does Hello Games have experience developing massive open-world adventures? This is their first game of this kind, as they are best known for their fun, light-hearted Joe Danger franchise. The kind of studio where a flooded office can be a huge setback, which is just what they dealt with last December while working on the game.

After the initial announcements,we didn’t see or hear too much reported or shown on the game. That’s why it’s sudden reappearance at E3 this year was so impressive. Hello Games had time to develop the game more before finally showing off all it’s tricks and nuances to the public. The gameplay trailer was an instant eye-opener, and a huge talking point for Sony’s Presser. Allowing a representative from the studio to come out and talk about the game showed that this was an indie project that was really being given attention to match the scope of it’s intentions. It wasn’t long before a lot of people were calling it “Game Of Show” for E3.

If you missed out on the gameplay shown off, take a moment to watch the trailer, because we have some things to discuss.

The first thing that’s instantly noticeable is the stunning color combinations. No Man’s Sky looks to make every planet you visit feel alien and new. Instead of the very traditional styles of sci-fi planets we’ve seen in most video games, it uses strange color combinations and twists on familiarity to make every planet look like nothing we’ve seen before. These are truly unique environments to explore and discover, with stranger creatures, unique plant life, and even vague signs of different civilizations.

What was really remarkable to me was the wildlife. All the strange creatures, ranging from beautiful butterflies, to small four-legged animals, to massive dinosaur-like monsters, seem to have an organically programmed life. They gather around water sources, they form packs, and at one point a giant rhino-like creature even charges recklessly through trees after a smaller, more helpless critter. Being able to scan these creatures and learn their names, and watch them interact promises a game that’s a pleasure to just explore in. The animals are not just there as background decoration, they’re full features.

You’ll also notice your scanner picks up resources on the planet’s surface. No Man’s Sky promises a trade system which allows you to collect stuff from the surface of planets and trade them for new crafts and upgrades. Another reward for careful exploration and taking your time to enjoy the planets.

Mixed among the nature and creatures, are spaceships. We see different ships fly by, ones crashed into the planets, and even massive floating fortresses in the sky. Coming across your own little ship, it seems to be just a press of a button to hop in, point off to the horizon, and take flight. In a matter of seconds, we’re off a planet and into space, where huge asteroids and pitched space battles greet you. It appears you have a gun that you can use to blow up the rocks, or even join in the on-going conflicts.

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Space battles aren’t anything new, but what really impressed me about this aspect was how the battle seemed to go from space to the surface of a new nearby planet seamlessly. In an instant, you’ve entered the atmosphere of a wasteland planet with mysterious floating land masses! Blasting the last few of the enemy(?) ships, you’re now allowed to just explore this new world.

If you notice, right as you enter that planet, a small window pops up that shows the name and “Discovered By:”. This is one of the big promises that Hello Games has talked up since the game was introduced. These are your planets. With each new discovery truly being just that. You’re not just moving from planned set pieces that a million other players have seen before you, you are actually discovering things no one has seen before. This isn’t just the procedural generation of a dungeon, this is your own planet to discover! You can even share these with other players, or keep these places all to yourself.

The interesting thing about the multiplayer aspect is that Hello Games promises that you’ll never actually see another player. However, if they’ve shared their discovered planets, you can visit them and “leave your mark” on their discoveries. This focus on personalized experience and discovery lends itself to water-cooler gaming on a level that has rarely been reached. This isn’t just finding a planned dungeon in Skyrim that your friend hasn’t found yet, this is stumbling upon entire game worlds that can literally be all your own. This kind of unique experience is a perfect fit for Playstation 4’s Twitch streaming!

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With this game pulling in so much attention now, I wonder just how possible it is going to be to keep so many unique worlds and discovers contained? If we end up with potentially millions of players sharing planets and discoveries, how will the game manage to keep things from becoming overwhelming. Not only to the player, but to the systems the developers have put in place. This is the kind of ambition that pushes the industry to it’s limits, then breaks them. This has the potential to prove that gaming still has more room to grow.

No Man’s Sky is everything a space-obsessed child could dream up. The imagination of discovering whole worlds, strange creatures, and going absolutely anywhere in your own space ship. This is the kind of thing almost everyone daydreamed about while staring at the stars growing up. It’s the kind of escapism and freedom that most adults have lingering in their minds as they work their 9-to-5 or stand in line at the DMV. Having worlds all your own, to just get lost and lose hours to beautiful landscapes and surprising discovery. This is an embodiment of the very core of what video games are. And if it ends up even half as incredible as it looks and sounds, then we may very well have a defining game for many years to come.

Let’s end on one more screenshot because, seriously, this game is breathtaking.

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NINTENDO – E3’S STRONG FEMALE PROTAGONISTS

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I’m going to blow your mind right now. Ready? Women. Play. Video Games. I KNOW… I know. Hard to believe, right? At least, I get the feeling it’s hard for the Triple A game publishers to believe.

At some point on Monday during E3, after several hours of press conferences and game demo presentations, I began to notice something: there were an awful lot of similar-looking lead characters. Almost every game I saw had one of two player characters shown. It was either a gravelly-voice white male with two-day stubble and a crew cut, or it was a cocky white guy with a smirk and an attitude. The most diverse character I saw on day one was Ubisoft’s homosexual villain for Far Cry 4. And he’s still a cocky white guy with a smirk and an attitude. Sure, we saw Lara Croft for a brief second, and a few female characters shown off for Dragon Age, but overall, it was a very white male dominated day for gaming.

Of course, Ubisoft had to make things worse by attempting a justification of the lack of female player characters in Assassin’s Creed: Unity. In a game with four-player co-op, there were zero female assassin’s included. Their reasoning was that it would “double the work” and cost more. I find it hard to sympathize with a company that does yearly releases for this franchise when it comes to not having the money to make a few more character models, especially given all the money spent on making everything look fancy and pretty. The internet even attempted to say it would be “historically inaccurate” (it isn’t) to include a female fighter in the French Revolution. All of these are just poor justification of an inability to put forth the effort to make a game more varied for the user base.

If you’ve braved gamer culture online for any amount of time in the last few years you’ll know this isn’t exactly a new observation, nor is it a new problem. This has been the state of gaming for a long while now, and the continued effort by female gamers, as well as a lot of male gamers, to bring a more robust cast of characters from all genders and races to gaming isn’t anything unexpected. We want variety in our games, both in what kind of gameplay and story we’re offered, but also in who we get to play as. We’ve gotten some great games with female leads, as well as some great supporting females, but most of the big titles are still overwhelmingly carried by similar white males.

And putting it bluntly: that’s terrible writing. When you can’t come up with a better player character than “grumpy white dude” or “bro-douche white dude”, you’re not exactly imaginative. And it makes it harder and harder for me to put faith in your games being imaginative as a whole. Does this mean we should completely abandon white male lead characters? Of course not, but maybe mix it up once and awhile? Show that you’re at least trying to represent the substantial amount of human beings on this planet that are, in fact, NOT white males. Come to think of it: that’s the MAJORITY of people on this planet. And yet: mostly white males in our games.

I was kind of discouraged heading into day 2, and as I sat down to watch the Nintendo E3 showcase, I really wasn’t paying much attention to gender anymore. But about halfway through, I noticed something: there was an awful lot of female characters being shown off. And upon looking back on it, aside from games where you play as non-humans (Kirby, Yoshi, etc.), almost every game had at least one female character, if not one female player character shown off. And these weren’t just cookie-cutter throwaway female characters, a lot of them were strong, interesting females who weren’t just paraded around in bikini armor to show off jiggle physics. Nintendo, without really making a big show of it, seems to have created a diverse player character collection that anyone can enjoy.

And I think it’s about time we shine a positive light on the “women characters in gaming” conversation and take a look at just how great these characters are.

Right away, we were treated to the introduction of player-created Miis being playable in Super Smash Bros. They showed off both genders of Mii, which already opens up to allowing girls to play as themselves in Nintendo’s hotly anticipated title. But at the end of the show, we were also introduced to another new character from Nintendo’s roster: Palutena. She was given a pretty cool cinematic intro video showing her as a strong, determined character. This isn’t the first female character added to the new Super Smash Bros, with Rosalina and Wii Fit Trainer (there is also a male version) added earlier in the game’s development. This brings the currently known roster up to 9 possible playable female characters (counting Samus twice here). That’s definitely a reasonable amount of great Nintendo characters, and there is always potential for another one to be added (I’d suspect a female from Fire Emblem in the near future?).

Rosalina Can Apparently Summon Whole Galaxies From Her V*****...

We were also treated to new player characters from the upcoming Dynasty Warriors/Zelda crossover, Hyrule Warriors. We already knew we would be able to play as series protagonist Link, but we were informed that we could now play as not one, but three popular female characters from the franchise. Not only could you play as the series’ titular Princess Zelda, but fan favorites Impa and Midna from Twilight Princess were also added to the player roster. These are three very different characters in terms of personality, but they have one thing in common: strength.

Zelda isn’t a stranger to falling victim to the “rescue the princess” problems in fantasy writing, but she’s also been known to help Link out in battle, and become a crucial part of saving Hyrule in numerous games, it’s refreshing to see her completely playable finally in an action game for the series. Midna’s wise-cracking attitude and hold-nothing-back personality made her a delight to have with you in Twilight Princess, and it’s nice to see the character return. Impa in particular is a popular female character in the franchise for her strength, intelligence, and independence. Her character model is wonderfully designed, looking battle-hardened, but also have a kind of understated beauty. Including these characters as playable is a great step forward for the franchise, and if Hyrule Warriors is well received, perhaps someday we’ll see Zelda playable in the main series as well.

Nintendo also introduced their new IP Splatoon, which includes both male and female character models to play as. And while it wasn’t mentioned during the Nintendo Direct, it was confirmed that Monolith Soft’s anticipated sequel to Xenoblade Chronicles will include the ability to fully customize your main character, allowing you to play as different genders, skin colors, etc. similar to most Western developer RPGs. Apparently, Monolith Soft and Nintendo were willing to put in “double the work” and the money necessary to create character models for both genders. It’s not so hard after all, Ubisoft.

And then there is Bayonetta. It’s still quite a surprise that Nintendo is now publishing the Bayonetta series, given it’s adult content and nature. However, the trailer shown off proves that Bayonetta is still the same character fans of the series loved before. She’s always been a rather interesting character, wearing her sexuality on her sleeve without feeling outwardly objectified like a lot of other female characters. And she’s still very much a s*** character, but continues to hold the kind of bad a** persona and confidence that made her stand out when the series was introduced. It’s refreshing to see a character like Bayonetta getting plenty of attention from Nintendo, proving they want to provide games for adults as well as kids, and still keep the same level of gender inclusive character roster their main franchises are enjoying.

While this is still just a good start for bringing more strong, well-designed female characters into the game industry, it was a nice change of pace from the usual white male dominated game presentations of E3 to see so many interesting female characters shown off so casually, like it really is just a normal part of gaming. Nintendo deserves credit for putting so many positive female characters into their franchises going forward, allowing new generations of “girl gamers” to play as their own gender and feel like they do belong as gamers.

And double kudos to them for taking back the Princess! Showing that while girls can dress in black and kick a**, they can also dress in pink and kick a** all the same. I love seeing characters like Peach and Zelda sport traditional female character garb, but no longer be thrown into a cage for most of the game and projected as delicate and in need of help. It’s a positive message to send to girls that they can be who they want to be and do what they want to do, both in the real world and in games, no matter how they want to dress or what their interests may be. Peach can still bake cakes and wear makeup and throw down with the boys.

Here is just a small collection of screens showing off some of the female characters from Nintendo’s E3 lineup for 2014/2015! Keep gaming, girls!

E3 – REINTRODUCING GAMERS TO COLORS

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So much gray. So much brown. So much black.

That’s been the story of modern gaming ever since the push for “gritty realism” became a focal point of Triple A game marketing. And while there have always been the games that broke free of that to introduce a little more color to gaming, we still can’t quite get past how grim and dark most projects continue to look.

However, this year’s E3 showed an impressive amount of color in amongst the typical drag, darkness. For every Bloodborne or The Order, there was a Sunset Overdrive and a LittleBigPlanet. For every Batman: “Darkham Night” and Rainbow Six: Siege (the irony of the word “Rainbow” being there is not wasted on me), there was a Yoshi’s Woolly World and Entwined. Let’s take a look at some of the beautiful, bright, and colorful titles that were showcased at this year’s E3.

With the success of recent HD re-releases like Wind Waker and Okami proving that brightly colored, cartoon-inspired games show off HD just as well, if not better, than hyper realism, it’s no surprise that a lot of developers want to test the power of the new generation of consoles to see just how alive they can make things look with tons of colors, blending and mixing, exploding out from every corner of the screen.

As usual, Nintendo forgoes the dark realism in favor of their old charm and colorful childlike wonder. Nintendo pulled out their most colorful and bright franchises one after another: A new Yoshi game. A new Kirby game. The new color-based Splatoon. Their showcase was a myriad of pastels, brightness, and joy. And for the first time ever, we’ll be seeing some of these familiar rainbow hued franchises in full HD! A clay-based Kirby with stunning color clashing, a warm and calming colored Yoshi game made entirely of yarn. The mixes of various colorful characters clashing in vibrant HD remasters of familiar Nintendo worlds in Super Smash Bros. The Wii U promises to showcase what HD can do for all the brightly colored retro games we loved in the past.

It’s no surprise that the new Kirby game is called Kirby & The Rainbow Curse, as it seems to really want to focus on being a step up for the beautiful Canvas Curse on DS, in full HD no less. The use of a rainbow track for ball Kirby to roll upon paints over the clay inspired worlds. Lovely lightning presents a look of sunshine to every level. Even the underwater level showed that even a level focused on blues could still have a variety and flare to it.

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Yoshi’s Woolly World aims to take the watercolors of Yoshi’s Island and drench them in the pastels of yarn, with a focus on calming colors making even the darkest corners of the game rather vibrant and peaceful. It’s a very familiar feeling Yoshi game, done with a greater focus on peace and tranquility. The yarn colors have the kind of softness you’d expect from actual knitting yarn, while still managing to capture Yoshi’s delightfully bright world.

Sequins Fit The Theme, As Well As Add A Shiny, Bright Look To Even The Dark Cave Levels

But Nintendo wasn’t the only ones getting in on the color this year, nor were they the only ones with a yarn-based game! The popular and always varied LittleBigPlanet made a return with it’s third console installment. As usual, the game promises to have stunning environments focused on zany, colorful themed levels. And you can also bet that the ability to customize your sackboy (or his new friends) with a cavalcade of costumes, color changes, and accessories will provide an extra punch of character to the game.

LBP3 immediately followed the dark and grim, yet oddly colorful as well, announcement for the inFamous DLC, First Light. inFamous was one of two games, the other being Crackdown 3, that really showcased a new kind of color direction in games: the use of blasts of neon colors contrasting over black environments to give a night-life style excitement to what could be otherwise bland, typical cityscapes. The choice to make everything gleam with multicolored lights, from your attacks to your environments, allows these games to maintain the dark, gritty feel without being oppressive or bleak. And in the case of two games where you fly around causing mayhem, color is a huge part in fitting the feel of the games.

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Another colorful game, Sunset Overdrive, also uses a lot of neon in it’s darker stages to maintain the game’s cartoon stylings even in night time environments. But it’s during the day when the game really shines. A satirical poke at modern gamer society as well as modern games, it’s no surprise that Insomniac (who are no strangers to colorful, cartoon worlds!) would choose to go the complete opposite extreme of the games they’re playfully mocking: massive clashes of oranges and reds, shown off at E3 in a gameplay demo that takes place in an amusement park, which are known for color and light. Even the baddies you mow down with fireballs seem to pop with lighter skin tones than most ghouls in games would have. It lends itself to the game’s manic, crazy action much better than, say, Dead Rising 3.

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And speaking of zombies! Even the now-predictable zombie games were much brighter than we expected. The trailer for Dead Island 2during Sony’s conference tossed aside the depressing, dark, and disturbing visuals of the original’s famous trailer, instead focusing on a silly sunlit cinematic trailer that played more like a really messed up Pixar movie than a zombie game trailer. As far as trailers without gameplay goes, it was nice to see zombies with a little life to them!

Sony brought with them a lot of colorful indie titles, including ABZU from some of the developers who worked on the equally color-focused Journey, a stunning game called Entwined, and of course, the show-stopping No Man’s Sky, which matches up strange color combinations to give you the impression of bold new alien worlds to explore.

Entwined Plays Like A Kaleidoscope Of Color

It seemed like every time we were set to fall back on the typical grays, browns, and blacks of video games, a new game showed up to splash some color on everything. We were treated to many stunning games basking in reds, blues, pinks, purples, mixing and swirling color together. Contrasting and blending. It really does feel like game makers are starting to realize just how great color can look with the power of modern consoles and big, HD televisions. Hopefully this isn’t a trend soon to disappear, because I’d love to see more games like these shown off by the game companies going forward.

THE E3 CONFERENCE WRAP-UP: PART 2 – SONY AND THE BIG N

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And onward we travel, into the second half of my E3 conference wrap-up! I already covered Microsoft, Ubisoft, and EA in part one, and now it’s time to move on to Sony and Nintendo, from Monday night and Tuesday morning respectively.

We’d already seen a few surprises, a lot of not-surprises, and a handful of things that were rather cringe worthy, so things were starting to look a bit worrisome as we sunk into the depths of E3. Was this going to turn into a mostly predictable and unimpressive year, or could Sony and Nintendo drop a few surprises in our laps to bring it all back and give us something to look for in 2014 and beyond?

SONY: A TALE OF TWO HALVES

Sony walked out of last year’s E3 with their head’s held high. They saw a moment of weakness in Microsoft’s next gen offering, and they didn’t just poke at it, they went at it with the teeth of a rabid animal going in for the kill. The Jack Tretton verbal smackdown that ended their impressive conference was icing on a delicious console cake that gave gamers high hopes for the future of Playstation, and made sure that that PS4 would enter it’s first year the dominant force in next gen consoles. But could Sony come into the follow-up year with the same amount of gusto, or would they fizzle out and lose ground on their competition?

The short answer is “no”. The long answer is “no, but…”.

Sony started things off with an extended cinematic trailer for Bungee’s hotly anticipated FPS game Destiny. Honestly, it was the first time I’d seen anything on the game that actually caught my eye. No more gameplay was shown, but the environments and story seemed very interesting, showing a lot more character and humor than it originally presented itself with. This was Sony’s foot in the door for the exclusive beta/DLC stuff, getting a Destiny beta starting July 17th. They also showed a new White PS4 bundled with 30 days of PS+ and a copy of Destiny slated for September 9th. No news was released on the price of the bundle at the presentation.

After this, Sony’s first-party title The Order:1886 was shown off with a little bit of a different style of gameplay than we expected. Dark rooms, and a showdown with a single monster. It was actually very unimpressive, seeming to almost completely ditch the steampunk style the game showed off originally, looking more like a bad Resident Evil clone than anything. The shooting looked kind of stiff and boring to me, and the feedback was generally negative on social media. Granted, there was very little shown here, and the final product may still be decent.

We learned of a new game called Entwined next, a game from Pixel Opus. It was a very unique little game that was immediately made available on PSN for PS4 owners, for $9.99. It was a pretty dual-stick focused game where you get to fly through the sky as two different brightly colored characters. It’s awfully pretty and if you have a PS4, it may be worth checking out.

New stand-alone inFamous: Second Son DLC was teased, called First Light. This seemed to be focused on the character Fetch, but no gameplay was shown. Almost instantly after the teaser for the DLC, without any build up, we see a LittleBigPlanet 3 logo. The crowd erupted at this sudden surprise, even more surprising given Media Molecule claiming they weren’t going to be at E3 this year. However, LBP3 is NOT being developed by Media Molecule, so their statement was factual. It is being developed by Sumo Digital.

Sackboy's New Friends... Or Enemies Depending On How You Play.

No teasers, no videos, we instantly were sent into live gameplay. And one by one, more players came on stage to show off the three new player characters available in the game. Each with their own unique abilities. One could wall jump, the other could shrink and grow in size, and the little bird character could fly and possibly pick up other player-characters for co-op and also to mess with them? The game is set to launch on PS4 in November, and the big shocker was that it will include access to all of the player-created levels from LBP1 and 2, giving the game a ton of content right away.

From bright colors and laughing to darkness and horror, the From Software logo showed up and we finally got to see Project Beast outside of just vague internet rumors. Of course, it carried with it an actual name: Bloodborne. A very creepy trailer focused on monsters and violence, but little could be deciphered about what kind of game it was or what it was about. With the huge success of Miyazaki and From Software’s Dark Souls games, it’s no surprise this was still a big talking point even though we know very little so far about it aside from it seeming to be PS4 exclusive, and won’t be seeing it until sometime next year.

But then we got some gameplay, this time from Far Cry 4. After having seen the story side of things, this gave us a good impression of the kind of gameplay we could expect. And that gameplay is full of gyrocopters and elephants smashing people to puddles! F*** yes! Raw, frantic, crazy action set in beautiful environments. It looked like the kind of mayhem you expect from the Far Cry series. An interesting little Playstation exclusive piece was dropped: if you buy the game on PS3 or PS4, you can have people who don’t even own the game come join you in the game’s new co-op focused gameplay! Pretty cool if you’re a Sony fan interested in the game.

After that, we were shown a brightly colored and rather ridiculous trailer for a new zombie game, which turned out to be a full sequel to Dead Island. Dead Island 2 showed no gameplay either, but the quirky ridiculous trailer was very different from the grim, cinematic trailer for the first one. Does this mean the game will take a slightly more light-hearted approach, like Dead Rising? We can’t say for sure, but what we do now is this will have an exclusive beta and content for Playstation owners.

We got a few glances at some interesting content for familiar games, such as Diablo 3 getting a The Last of Us content pack and Disney Infinite 2 getting exclusive Avengers content for Playstation. We also got a funny little trailer announcing Magicka 2 by Paradox Studios in partnership with Sony.

But then it happened. What is probably the most jaw-dropping moment of E3 this year, and one of the most out-of-left-field surprises we got during the entire show: Tim Schafer appeared in a picture on the screen. Now, we knew Double Fine was prepping something for Sony’s conference, but this one was just completely unexpected: Grim Fandango. The lost cult classic is being remastered exclusively for PS4 and Vita. The response to this was nothing short of a collective cry of happiness.

We were then treated to a Devolver Digital indie reel, and a trailer for Suda51’s upcoming PS4-exclusive game called Let It Die. The surprises kept coming as we were told that a new studio from some of the creators of PS3 hit Journey are back to make a new game, an ocean exploration game with dazzling visuals called Abzu.

This barrage of smaller titles was capped off with a show-stopper: No Man’s Sky.I was hyping up No Man’s Sky last year when it was announced around E3, and this year we finally got to see what it looked like after a year of work. And what it looked like was spectacular. This was easily a highlight of the entire show, and it was made even greater when the developer got to come out and talk about it, which was rather unprecedented given the game’s less Triple-A stylings. We got to see a lot of footage of the game, and the stunning visuals and eye-popping openness had pretty much everyone salivating. Expect a much more in-depth look at No Man’s Sky later on this week here on AiG.

Sony’s conference was suddenly incredible. And then it took a turn for the worse.

We got a bit of news on Morpheus, Youtube sharing on PS4, and a Free to Play Initiative. And when I say “a bit of news”, I mean they spent about 20 minutes on this stuff. And it was boring. And everyone was screaming at the stream to please stop and move on. We did get some cool news about Playstation Now with another open beta coming July 31st, and Playstation TV will be dropping this fall for only 99 dollars, with a bundle with a dualshock controller coming in at $139.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain made an appearance, with a rather lengthy and impressive trailer showing a lot of the cinematic qualities of the game. It looked like a Metal Gear Solid should look like, and fans of the series now have PLENTY of stuff to pick through as they wait for the game’s release sometime in 2015.

Returning to games, we got an extended gameplay look at some of Mortal Kombat X. It looked like a Mortal Kombat game. People got their hearts ripped out. There was a lot of blood. Turning from gore to color, we got a look at a possible Ratchet & Clank remake for PS4, as well as a new movie based on the beloved Sony franchise. It was pretty, but I didn’t feel like it completely captured the humor and feel of the games.

We got a few ports announced, with more talk about The Last Of Us on PS4 (releasing July 29th), and GTAV making it’s next gen console debut sometime in the fall.

Next up was some gameplay footage of Batman: Arkham Knight. Everything was dark, the streets of Gotham were oddly devoid of any pedestrians as you cruised around in the Batmobile, and it generally looked exactly like the other games. The teaser trailer of the Scarecrow that followed was rather intense though, which brought with it Scarecrow exclusive DLC to the Playstation versions of the game. If you liked the other ones, odds are you’ll like this one. I thought it looked oddly designed and kind of silly myself, with Gotham looking like a poorly designed playground instead of a city.

We finally ended on the most expected reveal of the night: actual Uncharted 4 footage. We didn’t get much, a short dramatic cinematic of Nathan Drake waking up in a jungle, with some dialogue hinting that this may be the last outing for the hero. The game also received a title Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Adding to the feeling that this may be a final Uncharted for the time being. The game is slated for 2015, but no gameplay or details were mentioned.

Sony fizzled out a bit at the end. They were the only ones to focus on the tv and boring stuff this year, which really derailed an exciting E3. They then went into kind of typical E3 stuff for the rest of the show, and everything felt far less exciting and interesting than that middle section. Their show was the longest, clocking in at 2 hours, and it felt it, dragging on towards the end and losing a lot of the goodwill and interest they’d gathered on the way. Overall, it was still solid, with a bit more variety and gameplay than the previous press events, but not by entirely too much. It had some pleasant surprises and stuff to look forward to, keeping Sony from completely blowing it, but it just wasn’t what it could have been due to poor planning and pacing.

GRADE: B

NINTENDO: WITH EVERYTHING ON THE LINE…

This was it. Nintendo really had to go all-in this year, or things were going to get rough. With the Wii U struggling to keep it’s head above water, all eyes were on Nintendo. Could they do enough to save the struggling console, or would they abandon it completely and focus on their money-maker in the 3DS? I was all set to write them off this year as dead in the water, but their 40 minute Nintendo E3 Direct genuinely surprised me.

Book-ending things between two Super Smash Bros announcements, Nintendo hit fast, hard, and frequent with a constant barrage of games with very little talking in-between, aside from a few spotlights on developers. We were introduced to the amiibo system, using figurines in a way similar to Skylanders, and the first game to implement this would be Super Smash Bros on the Wii U, as well as told right away that you could put custom Miis as playable characters in the game. And at the end, we were treated to a nicely done anime teaser introducing a new character to Super Smash Bros: Palutena from Kid Icarus. It was refreshing to see another strong female character introduced to the franchise, and she’s sure to be a fan favorite. We also got to see a bit of what to expect from the game’s Wii U counterpart. With lots of modes, stages, and characters to play with, the game seemed to be very focused on tons of content packed in.

But it was the stream of games between the SSB announcements that are really gearing to make headlines. We finally got to see some of the Yarn Yoshi game that was mentioned over a year ago, with it’s final name all set: Yoshi’s Woolly World. The game showcased charming visuals and a lot of familiar designs from Yoshi’s Island. We got introduced to the co-op mechanics as well, allowing one Yoshi to eat the other and throw it around the stage.

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Following that, a spin-off game for Captain Toad from Super Mario 3D World was shown, with similar gameplay to his stages in the Mario title, but with a bit more depth and action. The game will drop this holiday season, no news on if it will be a retail game, but I’d suspect it to be a downloadable title or perhaps some kind of DLC for SM3DW.

Aonuma made an appearance with one of the games a lot of people were waiting for going in: the Wii U Zelda! Immediately, we were greated by a beautiful sprawling field showcasing just how vast the world may be in this coming title. The focus seems to be on making it a very large, open world experience with a lot of attention paid to exploration. An exciting teaser of some action was then shown, with Link fighting what appeared to be a mechanical spider and using a bow with a technologically advanced electric arrow. Does this mean the game will have more focus on a steampunk/tech style? It looked great, but with no gameplay to go on, we won’t know until next year. The game is slated for a 2015 release, and will surely be a big part of next year’s E3 for Nintendo.

A trailer was shown for the upcoming Pokemon gen 3 remakes, Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. It was more just showcasing the Mega evolutions we have already seen on the internet from CoroCoro pictures earlier in the month. The game is ready to go November 21st, 2014 meaning a lot of people will have something to look forward to over the holiday break to eat up time.

Nintendo dove into more darker, adult territory next by showing off gameplay and footage from Bayonetta 2. Never thought I’d hear someone say “H***” during a Nintendo Direct, but there it was. The game looks to be the same massive bosses and crazy action as the original, and if you missed the original, it was announced that it will be included in with Bayonetta 2 when it releases when the game releases in October, giving added incentive to those that missed out on the first one and want to get into the franchise.

Next up was Hyrule Warriors, and we were introduced to new playable characters from the Zelda franchise: Midna from Twilight Princess,fan-favorite Impa, and even Zelda herself! Gameplay showed the same chaotic Dynasty Warriors gameplay, but with some familiar Zelda flare making an appearance. The game is set for a release on September 26th this year.

The Nintendo Gods made sure to give me a gift as well, dropping a surprise Kirby game for Wii U. It appears to be a spiritual sequel to Kirby Canvas Curse on the DS, using the same touchscreen controls and ball-shaped Kirby, but this time everything had the appearance of being made out of clay. It uses the Gamepad for the touchscreen elements, and looked just as colorful and fun as you’d expect a Kirby game to look. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is coming 2015.

And jumping away from color and cute for a minute, Nintendo showed a more detailed cinematic trailer for Monolith Soft’s follow-up to Xenoblade Chronicles, now officially known as Xenoblade Chronicles X. It focused on the mechs and cinematics, without showing us much in the way of gameplay. Unfortunately for Nintendo fans, this one has been pushed back into next year as well. But, knowing Monolith

The previously leaked Mario Maker was shown off, using a simple touchscreen interface to build your own custom Mario levels using classic Super Mario Bros pixel art, or a New Super Mario Bros mode. The game looked easy to pick up and build with, and is also coming next year.

Online Multiplayer Team-Based New IP – None of these words were expected at Nintendo’s E3 this year, and yet, that’s exactly what they showed next. Splatoon became an instant favorite, showing a colorful and frantic four-on-four game focused on capturing territory by spraying your team’s color of paint everywhere. This isn’t all you can do with the paint though, as a versatile set of moves were shown. Turning into a squid, you could swim through the paint to move around quickly, or you could slow down your opponents. The game was an instant hit and is currently burning up the E3 showroom. This is yet another reason to buy a Wii U in 2015.

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After the Palutena reveal, everyone was set to be done with Nintendo’s satisfying direct, but a smiling Miyamoto showed up for just a brief moment, holding a Gamepad with the new Star Fox! This had been leaked earlier so most people knew it was coming, but it was still a nice teaser for things to come. Not much is known about the Star Fox game, and only short explanations have been given on the two new IPs Miyamoto is working on currently known as Project Giant Robot and Project Guard, which were shown for a few minutes during the post-event hosted by Nitnendo. This is exciting news for Miyamoto fans and Wii U owners.

Nintendo also dropped a few announcements shortly after their presentation ended, including announcing Mario Party 10 for the Wii U, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright coming to 3DS on August 29th, and perhaps the biggest surprise: Devil’s Third, now announced as a Wii U exclusive and being published by Nintendo!

Overall, Nintendo came out swinging. Hitting all the notes fans wanted, and pulling in some more reluctant people with a few surprises, including some third party news and a fun looking new IP. All in all, Nintendo do an excellent job giving the Wii U tons of attention, but with a lot of these titles not coming until 2015, we may still have to wait to see the system come into it’s own in the sales department. Either way, Nintendo deserves to walk away this year with a pat on the back for putting it all out there. Kudos, Big N. Can I have a free copy of Splatoon please?

GRADE: A

THE E3 CONFERENCE WRAP-UP: PART 1 – THE TWO ‘SOFTS AND EA!

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logo-e3E3 2014 is finally upon us. The event affectionately referred to as “Gamer Christmas” is in full swing, and it’s brought with it a handful of new games and big surprises across all platforms. Did you miss the conferences from the “Big 5”? Don’t fret, because I’ve got you covered. Below is a general summary of all five of the big conferences, as well as a letter grade for those of you that like to keep score.

Last year, the next generation of consoles was upon us, and with it came plenty of head-butting and low-blows between Sony and Microsoft. Sony dropped some bombs and left Microsoft reeling. This year, the second round of the fight for dominance in the new generation of consoles was the big talking point heading in. And all three contenders (yes, all THREE contenders) held nothing back. This year was much more focused on games than in the past few years, and needless to say, it’s a pretty good time to be a gamer.

Well, unless you own a Vita…

MICROSOFT: RETURNING FAVORITES AND FOCUS ON GAMES

Microsoft had the benefit of being the only main contender with only one platform to focus on. And now that they’ve removed some of their more iffy policies and dropped the Kinect, the Xbox One was ready to come into it’s own. Phil Spencer took the stage and made it apparent right away that today was about games. In fact, it was ONLY about games. That’s right: Microsoft ONLY showed games this year!

At least, a lot of trailers for games. It is E3 after all.

Microsoft kicked things off with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, getting it out of the way immediately. In fact, this was the only time we saw Call of Duty during the conferences, and honestly: it looked pretty good. Sledgehammer is definitely looking to make this their own game and not just fall back on the franchise and it’s predictability. Not much was talked about, but the futuristic elements added a certain layer of newness that the COD games desperately needed. Something tells me if this was presented as a new IP instead of another Call of Duty, people would have been far more interested in it.

Forza was up next, with new content for Forza 5 and some details on Forza Horizon 2. Nothing much to note here. But the camera angles were nice. If you’re really into fancy cinematic camera work on computer generated tires.

A short trailer for 2K Games and Turtle Rock Studios’ upcoming Monster vs. Man multiplayer shooter Evolve was shown off, and started the trend of exclusive DLC for different consoles. Xbox One owners get their hands on a Beta and some timed exclusive DLC first. Nothing much else was said about the game, but it’s unique take on multiplayer makes it worth keeping an eye on as it approaches it’s October release.

Next up was the first showing of the next Assassin’s Creed, subtitled Unity. The gameplay shown was traditional Assassin’s Creed fair, but with a surprise added multiplayer/co-op focus. Up to four assassin’s can go through the game’s missions at once. This AC seemed to have a much more action oriented feel to it’s combat, with a lot more slashing and stabbing and a bit less stealth shown off. The French Revolution environments were mostly typical of the series, but the added focus on NPC action made the world feel much more alive than previous Assassin’s Creed games. This was one of the things I wanted to see from the new generation of consoles: more focus on living, breathing worlds. This looks like a good first step.

Bioware dropped a new extended trailer for Dragon Age: Inquisition. Beautiful visuals, but nothing was shown on gameplay. Once again, timed exclusive DLC is shown for Xbox One owners. We knew Dragon Age would be talked about later on during the EA event, so it was only a small mention before moving on.

Microsoft’s show was stolen by the next game: Sunset Overdrive. Not only did we get a humorous, satirical trailer poking fun at tropes in the game industry, but we got to see the game in action. It’s a frantic, colorful, ridiculous action-shooter focused on grinding on rails, leaping on exploding boxes, and mowing down hoards of monsters. It looks like it’s focus on fun instead of seriousness is going to pay off big and make it a must-own for Xbox One owners. The reception was very good, with most people on social media instantly won over by the demo.

Capcom dropped a new Dead Rising 3 DLC mocking themselves a bit and giving some of their other franchises some love in the form of silly costumes and moves. Even more surprising, it was released right then and there, available now for download on Xbox One. It was nice to see Capcom not take itself so seriously and take a few jabs at it’s silly naming tactics. They also have Power Stone references in there, so that’s a nice bonus. Now can we please get an HD re-release of Power Stone? Or a sequel?

Dance Central: Spotlight was quickly mentioned, and then we moved on to Fable Legends and Project Spark. The former showing some gameplay of a sort of top-down multiplayer RTS-style getting a beta sometime this year. Project Spark showed off some of it’s colorful art, quirky characters, and focus on customization of levels, with a surprise appearance by Conker from Conker’s Bad Fur Day at the end, announcing his inclusion in Project Spark.

A beautiful game from an unknown studio called Ori And The Blind Forest was shown. A lovely looking 2D platform-adventure game. Possibly an Xbox One exclusive at this time. Not much has been mentioned about the game’s release as of yet, but people looking for more beautiful 2D games won’t be disappointed.

Microsoft’s obligatory Halo announcement was a bit different than expected. Instead of talking about Halo 5, they announced a collection of all four numbered Halo games coming to Xbox One. This will include an Anniversary edition remastering of Halo 2, as well as every single multiplayer map released for the franchise, all running in 1080p, 60FPS, and on dedicated servers. Also yes: there will be new achievements! This will drop for 60 dollars on November 11th. They then mentioned that yes, Halo 5 is coming: Holiday 2014.

Phil Spencer returned with one of this soon-to-be-joked-about wardrobe changes. He was wearing a Limbo shirt. And sure enough, the follow-up to the indie darling made a surprise and sudden appearance. A gameplay teaser was shown for Playdead’s new game, Inside, and it looked great. A dark sidescroller with eerie visuals and a narrative focus. It looks like a worthy follow-up to Limbo. Little is known about it’s release other than that it will be first on Xbox. Does that mean a console-exclusive immediately or will it get a PC release at the same time?

The indie train kept coming as they showed off a 10-game indie sizzle reel. You can watch the trailer here for a look at all the indies coming to Xbox One in the coming years. Some great titles there.

A world premiere trailer for the follow-up to the Tomb Raider reboot appeared next. No gameplay or release window, but the game will be titled Rise Of The Tomb Raider. Yes, that’s an incredibly stupid name. Odds are this will be across multiple platforms. This was followed by some gameplay from The Witcher 3, showing off a little combat and hyping up the beautiful visuals.

We then got a series of new game announcements. The first being a surprising reboot to cult-classic Xbox game Phantom Dust. Following this, Hideki Kamiya, head of the popular Platinum Games, came to the stage with a trailer for their new Xbox One-exclusive title Scalebound. Little is know other than it having dragons and a snarky kid with a sword. It looked pretty cool, but we currently know nothing about it’s gameplay. And rounding out the Xbox exclusives, another favorite returned: Crackdown! Crackdown 3 was teased with a crazy over-the-top action-packed trailer showing off the series’ trademark zany mayhem.

This series of new titles teased ended the Microsoft showing with a bang. Overall, an alright presentation, but the lack of gameplay footage made people a bit worried. Either way, the Xbox One has some games coming out to look forward to.

GRADE: B-

EA: RISE OF THE CONCEPTUAL PROTOTYPES!

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I’m going to be blunt right away: EA’s presentation was a disaster. Not that they didn’t have their share of surprises, it was just poorly presented, with a number of their more interesting games showing not only no gameplay, but not even trailers! They decided instead to show a lot of footage of developers in their studios, and more than one game was shown only as conceptual prototypes or concept art. Most of the titles they announced didn’t seem like they were even remotely close to being ready to be shown, meaning we probably won’t get many of them for a long while.

EA went through their usual sports releases, announcing an overhaul on the defensive side of Madden football, and the use of the Frostbite Engine in the new PGA Tour game. This promises to make the next-gen versions of their annual sports franchises worth it for the fans who are waiting for a true advancement on these titles.

The big announcements, at least the big conceptual prototypes, were for games such as Dice’s new Star Wars: Battlefront. The next Mass Effect as well as a new IP from Bioware (which we know exactly nothing about), and a new multiple-vehicle extreme sports driving game from Burnout developers Critieron. We saw nothing of these games other than really early drawings and computer models. The same goes for Mirror’s Edge 2, which was also given the conceptual prototype treatment, with no finished gameplay or footage shown at all. It was disappointing not to see any sign of these games being playable or ready to be shown.

What we did finally get to see in action was Dragon Age: Inquisition. Finally showing off a short bit of the battle system, which promises some larger scale dragon fights with a focus on switching between party members. It looked fluid and functional, if not a bit more on the action side than before.

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We saw a more in-depth look at The Sims 4, with a heavy focus on the emotions of the Sims, as well as the ability to upload and then download full player-created Sims into your world, with all their personality traits in tact. It didn’t look like too much new for the franchise, but fans will be happy to know it’ll be dropping on September 2nd.

EAs presentation ended with a lengthy showcase of Battlefield: Hardline. You shoot stuff. You blow things up. You run around ruined buildings. It was visually nice, but didn’t look like anything new. The focus on “bank heists” as underplayed due to those heists mostly just being blowing up an entire city. The presentation ended with the beta announcement: it launched right then! Anyone with Battlefield 4 could access the beta on a first-come-first-serve basis, with the full game launching in October.

EA set a new low for E3. It was weird actually WANTING pre-rendered cutscene trailers, since at least that’s finished content. The consistent reliance on “conceptual prototypes” became a social media joke and the entire presentation somehow managed to make several big announcement incredibly underwhelming. This was more of an advertisement for E3 2015 than anything. A complete disaster.

GRADE: F

UBISOFT: STILL THE BEST AT TRAILERS, AT LEAST…

Things started off immediately with a cinematic from Far Cry 4 showcasing the game’s controversial antagonist. I was rather impressed by how interesting the character was, and wanted to see the game in action, but we got no gameplay. Well, at least we can put to rest our concerns about the character?

If there is one thing that can be said for Ubisoft, it’s that they know their way around cinematic trailers. As usual, they had some of the most mind blowing trailers for otherwise incredibly bland looking games. Assassin’s Creed: Unity and The Division both had awesome lengthy trailers with cool music and beautiful visuals. The games themselves were less than impressive. Looking more like business as usual for the game industry than anything worth talking about.

A short look at Valiant Hearts was the most interesting thing Ubisoft showed, but that game drops in a couple weeks, so it wasn’t really a focus point. What was a focus point was Ubisoft’s obligatory “surprise” reveal at the end: the return of Rainbow Six! That’s right, Ubisoft closed with Rainbow Six: Siege, a reboot of sorts for the franchise.

The gameplay (which was more than likely heavily scripted and fluffed up) was presented with awkward pre-recorded multiplayer voice chat, but showed highly destructible environments, the ability to protect hostages, and a lot of focus on strategic multiplayer planning. While impressive, I have to be a little skeptical at how much of this will actually be pulled off in the main game.

Ubisoft shows their next Just Dance game, as well as an extended look at a new fitness game called “Shape Up”. Neither was particularly notable and took up way more time than they should have. There was also a sorta-gameplay demo reel of open world multiplayer racerThe Crew, which looked impressive. The continued push of being able to drive from “coast to coast” without a single loading screen still sounds like silly rhetoric, but we’ll be able to know for ourselves when the beta opens on July 23rd, with the game hitting shelves in November for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

And that’s it. No, really. That’s all Ubisoft had to offer. It was pretty underwhelming, but at least there was a bit more gameplay at this showing. The Crew looks interesting, Rainbow Six: Siege could be great if it lives up to it’s big talk. I’m still not sold on The Division though, with it’s gameplay looking very typical of cover-based shooters, with very little to impress or keep it separated from the rest of it’s genre mates.

This year’s Ubisoft show was a bit less awkward than usual, but it was still filled with immature jokes, attempts at seeming hip and edgy, and tons of bad gamer stereotypes, for that, and the lack of interesting games, Ubisoft gets a pretty low grade too.

GRADE: D

I know what you’re thinking: was E3 this mediocre? It wasn’t doing much to impress… yet. But we still have Sony and Nintendo to go! Those will be covered later today on a separate article.

Spoiler: Things got better. A lot better.

A SONG FOR VIGGO: PROFOUNDLY EMOTIONAL PAPERCRAFT GAME WITH A DIFFICULT STORY TO TELL

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As video games continue to mature as a storytelling medium, we see more and more people come forward and try to tackle sensitive subjects through the medium. Everything from cancer, to gender identity, to mental illness, has been approached with respect by game makers all over the world, both telling their own stories, as well as the experiences of others. So it comes as no surprise that every once in a while a game comes up that approaches something that is almost too difficult to imagine experiencing.

A Song For Viggo puts you in the position of playing as a parent who is accidentally responsible for the death of their own child. It has me enthralled with its brave storytelling, stunning art style, and respectful approach to very difficult experiences.

Approaching a topic like this requires a delicate approach and a lot of respect for the weight of the subject matter. Developer Simon Karlsson has stated that he went out and sat down with multiple people who have experienced the loss of a child, including those who have been in a similar situation presented in the game, in order to get a respectful, real viewpoint for the game.

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It’s a point and click-style adventure game that seeks to put you into the everyday struggles that come after a tragic event, starting with having to plan the funeral of your child, and continuing on with life afterwards. The topics of marital division, suicide, depression, and how it effects your other children are all major focus points in the narrative, and it appears the game will present these things in the context of normal, everyday life. You’re not going on some metaphorical adventure or poetic abstraction: this is real life, with all its mundane little choices, and with the added weight of a profound loss towering over everything you do.

The soundtrack for the game carries an added narrative depth to it as well, consisting of chilling piano pieces (if the music in the trailer is any indication, anyway) that are actually being played by Karen, the mother of the lost child, who has turned to playing music as a coping mechanism while in mourning.

Moreover, the game is presented in a rather breathtaking art style. Every screen of the game, as well as all the characters and objects, are handcrafted out of paper. Not digital paper, but real, physical paper. The amount of detail in the environments and objects are stunning, considering its hand-crafted nature, and it gives a kind of neutral beauty to the situation, as well as carrying with it a kind of shadowy darkness that the subject matter needs to really be impactful.

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A Song About Viggo is currently on Kickstarter until late June with the intention of being released on Steam as well as mobile devices. You can check out the game in motion in the trailer below.

THE FALL REVIEW – FALLING SHORT OF POTENTIAL

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Sometimes, a game comes along that you really want to love, but it seems to be doing everything in it’s power to prevent you from enjoying it. The Fall by Over The Moon Games is one of those games. The teaser trailer for the game had my interest, and when I booted up the game, I saw a lot of potential. Unfortunately, that all fell apart the more I played it.

The Fall is an episodic side-scrolling adventure game with light action and platforming elements sprinkled in. It’s main focus is exploration, puzzle solving, and narrative. The best way I can describe it initially is to compare it to classic point-and-click adventures, containing a lot of the same puzzle frameworks that fans of the genre have come to expect. And like most point and click adventure games, there is a heavy focus on environmental exploration and storytelling.

Starting abruptly with you careening through space and crash landing on a strange, dark planet, you awaken as a cold and calculating AI affectionately nicknamed “Arid”. Arid resides within a high-tech battle suit wrapped around her human pilot who has found himself on the receiving end of a bad case of the “I just fell from outer f****** space” disorder. Needless to say, he’s in rough shape and it’s up to Arid to take control of the body suit and seek medical assistance. This is presented as her directive, something she cannot disobey and must accomplish at all costs.

Unable to get a fix on your location, you’re left to explore the ruins of this worse-for-wear planet, which is covered in the scraps of various droids and seems to be completely devoid of human life. As you explore, you find yourself in an abandoned factory belonging to a company that seems to be in charge of creating and programming droids for human use. You must find your way to the medical bay, avoiding hostile droids and reprogramming yourself to maintain your objective. This all comes to pass as a very I, Robot-style philosophical story about sentience in AI plays out. Arid has to find ways to reactive systems and even break them in order to achieve her primary objective.

As you continue, you bump into two other main characters. An aggressive enemy droid that seems to be patrolling the area looking for robots in need of reprogramming, or crucifixion depending on the situation and the building’s information computer who has managed to survive for a long time, filling the void where necessity used to be with the desire to study and learn human tone and speech patterns. Considering the cast is made up of nothing but computer AI, the characters are surprisingly deep and interesting, strengthened by solid dialogue writing and the starting of interesting philosophical conversation pieces about will, choice, and cognizance in computer AI.

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The writing is solid, and the set-up in the first of three chapters is there for some hopefully more in-depth excursions into these topics. But as the first chapter stands, it’s simply a taster of a much larger story that may or may not pay off.

And it’d be a joy to explore this intriguing environment, indulge in the solid narrative, and contemplate computer AI, if it wasn’t for the gameplay, which is where The Fall lost me.

As I said earlier, the game plays like a point and click adventure. Exploring environments and using your surroundings to solve logic puzzles. The puzzles themselves are clever enough, often slipping into the familiar pitfalls of obscure logic and “just shove all the items into the other items until something works” kind of gameplay the genre is loved for, but this is rendered much more annoying by the central control scheme.

The Fall requires a gamepad in order to work, due to it’s analog-stick centric design. The right analog stick is used to scan the dark environments using a flashlight attached to the suit’s gun. This is done in a 360 degree circular control, with objects you can study and interact with marked by a tiny icon. From there, you use the right bumper to open a menu navigated with the left analog stick (also used for movement) which allows you to interface or pick up/use items in your inventory. It’s a somewhat cumbersome control scheme that takes a bit of getting used to. It gets especially annoying when it’s used to interact with simple things, including buttons and door panels which would have been better off assigned to a simple interact button.

But this isn’t the worst use of the control scheme, that’s held down by the combat in the game. Sporadically, you find yourself in gun fights with the patrol bots that have been reactivated to stop you. These occasional action sequences are frustrating and bland, forcing you to jump behind cover with the use of the left bumper and jump back out to shoot, using the 360-analog control to aim. The trouble is, the controls felt a bit sensitive to me, and I’d often have a hard time getting the laser sight to move slow enough to get a lock on my enemies, usually shooting right above their head or emptying clips into the crate they’re hiding behind. I wish there was a way to adjust the sensitivity of aiming in order to make it easier to hit the small parts of the target poking up from behind cover. The standing-cover enemies are substantially easier to deal with, as you can just wait for them to finish their three-shot bursts then unload on them, hit cover, and repeat. It never changes up from there.

The enemy AI is about as stupid as it can get too, taking cover and popping up to fire off a number of shots in a perfectly predictable pattern, never adapting or changing. This turns every shoot out into an uninspired game of whack-a-molebot. Which is a time-consuming chore if you can’t master the finicky aiming. Eventually, I discovered I could just walk over and jump over the crouched robots, then instantly turn around and initiate the “stealth” take down attack. I didn’t even have to worry about taking damage because when you sneak up behind the enemy and insta-kill them in this way, it completely restores your health and shield. So basically, I could take a their three-shots, leap over them, and “Metal Gear Revengeance” their spines out like some kind of demented robot game of leapfrog, instantly restoring my health. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

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This dumbed-down combat renders these segments completely unengaging. They could have been completely removed from the game and it would have been a substantially better experience for it. They do nothing but get in the way, and their predictability (Gee, a bunch of cover lined up in a hallway, wonder if I’ll be in a shoot out here soon) makes them nothing but a boring filler to extend the game a little bit. Even the very few “upgrades” you get do little to expand on the experience.

But what about the controls during the bulk of the game? The puzzle and exploration segments? Unfortunately, the controls stumble here as well. The platforming, though very, very sparse, is clunky and awkward, and the way you switch from your laser sight to your flashlight is atrocious. You have to move your right analog stick and point it down to switch, which made me hold up my gamepad and go “but what about all these other unused buttons?”. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I didn’t find it incredibly hard to trigger, sometimes spinning the analog stick around in circles or flicking it up and down in an attempt to get the flashlight to turn back on. Sometimes, it’d click twice in quick succession moving to my flashlight then straight back to the laser sight. This is an exercise in trying to fix something that wasn’t broken: a button assigned to changing between the two gun modes would have worked just fine.

The scanning made searching for items feel like more of a pain than it should have. I felt as though I had to constantly move my scanner up and down as I walked so as not to miss something obscured by the dark environments. On more than one occasion, I was completely stuck due to items appearing where there weren’t any after I did something. This wouldn’t be a problem, but as the game progresses the areas become larger, and searching every single room you were already in over and over to find things you missed took way longer than it had to. There is a lot of backtracking, and if you’re not super thorough, you’re going to miss one thing and find yourself searching every room like you lost your car keys. It takes the already sometimes tedious point and click gameplay and makes it exponentially more frustrating.

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I also had issues with a few game-halting bugs. On one occasion, I fell down an elevator shaft I had just come up, and the button for the elevator no longer worked, unable to jump out, I had to restart from the last checkpoint. One time, I beat the first stage of a boss only to find his health bar regenerated… and the boss nowhere to be found. Trapped in the boss room with nothing to interact with, I had to restart from the last checkpoint. Then, I solved a puzzle which should have let me go and open a new door, but interacting with the door button did nothing. I spent the next hour searching my environments again to see if I missed something. Killing the game in frustration, I came back the next day to find the button suddenly working! It started giving me a sense of “am I actually stuck on a puzzle, or is the game broken again and I have to reload?”.

The checkpoints are fairly arbitrary, sometimes making me tread through a puzzle or two again, or listen to a long string of dialogue every time I reloaded or restarted. I wish the game would have given me an option to save manually so I could make sure I didn’t have to do a puzzle again or run through dialogue trees repeatedly to get what I needed done. It’s not a huge problem, but when the game had me in a position to have to restart from checkpoints multiple times, it did get grating.

As this is only the first chapter, I’m expecting improvements over time, but as a first chapter, this just didn’t do much to make me hopeful for the product as a whole. It’s only a teaser for what’s to come, and the strangely rushed and abrupt cliff-hanger ending felt especially forced and poorly executed. It didn’t so much make me want to play the next chapter as it did make me raise an eyebrow and go “well, that came out of nowhere…”.


SUMMARY

The Fall isn’t completely without merit. I did find the characters and story to be very well executed, and the environments were designed with some solid detail and interesting sci-fi elements to keep you enjoying where you are. But, the gameplay completely derailed the experience. Lending itself to frustration, tedium, and boredom more than engagement. I wish I could say the narrative was worth the trouble, but even the best story can’t undo the painful experience of the gameplay and it’s many questionable design choices. I’m still invested enough to keep my eye on the next chapter, but I’m hoping with it comes some critical fixes to make the overall experience less of a mess.

MOMENT OF ARTISTRY

The  information robot companion’s switch between his programmed schpeal and commentary in it’s newly discovered human-style voice was exceptionally well-written and delivered, giving a rather unique take on AI sentience. This solid writing is what made the characters more than just empty computer AI cliches.

PROS

+ Well-Writing Dialogue Teases At A Deeply Philosophical Sci-Fi Narrative Filled With Interesting Questions And Characters

+ Well-Realized Environments With A Solid Attention To Detail Give The World Life And Raise Questions For Chapters To Come

CONS

– Clunky, Counter-Intuitive, And Mostly Frustrating Controls That Could Have Easily Been Done Better

– Atrocious Cover-Based Shooting Segments With Iffy Controls And Boring Enemy AI

– Checkpoint System Feels Random And Occasionally Leads To Repeating Segments Upon Death/Restarting The Game

– A Few Game-Halting Bugs Made Worse By Being Completely Unable To Tell If It’s A Puzzle Or A Break

– Exploration And Backtracking Is Made Far More Tedious Than It Should Have To Be

5/10


The Fall was developed by Over The Moon Games and is available on Steam starting May 30th for $9.99. No news on the release of the final two chapters.

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